29 Word Form: Adjective and Adverbs | Prefixes and Suffixes

Learning Objectives

  • Identify adjectives and adverbs.
  • Use adjectives and adverbs correctly.
  • Identify the meanings of common prefixes.
  • Become familiar with common suffix rules.

Adjectives and adverbs are descriptive words that bring your writing to life. Using the appropriate word form in your writing shows you understand how word variety and use is important. This also helps your writing be clear to the reader.

The English language contains an enormous and ever-growing number of words. Enhancing your vocabulary by learning new words can seem overwhelming, but if you know the common prefixes and suffixes of English, you will understand many more words. Mastering common prefixes and suffixes is like learning a code. Once you crack the code, you can not only spell words more correctly but also recognize and perhaps even define unfamiliar words.

Adjectives and Adverbs

An adjective is a word that describes a noun or a pronoun. It often answers questions such as which one, what kind, or how many?

The green sweater belongs to Iris.

She looks beautiful.

In sentence 1, the adjective green describes the noun sweater.

In sentence 2, the adjective beautiful describes the pronoun she.

An adverb is a word that describes a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Adverbs frequently end in -ly. They answer questions such as how, to what extent, why, when, and where.

Bertrand sings horribly.

My sociology instructor is extremely wise.

He threw the ball very accurately.

In sentence 3, horribly describes the verb sings. How does Bertrand sing? He sings horribly.

In sentence 4, extremely describes the adjective wise. How wise is the instructor? Extremely wise.

In sentence 5, very describes the adverb accurately. How accurately did he throw the ball? Very accurately.

Comparative Versus Superlative

Comparative adjectives and adverbs are used to compare two people or things.

Jorge is thin.

Steven is thinner than Jorge.

Sentence 1 describes Jorge with the adjective thin.

Sentence 2 compares Jorge to Steven, stating that Steven is thinner. So thinner is the comparative form of thin.

Form comparatives in one of the following two ways:

If the adjective or adverb is a one syllable word, add -er to it to form the comparative. For example, big, fast, and short would become bigger, faster, and shorter in the comparative form.

If the adjective or adverb is a word of two or more syllables, place the word more in front of it to form the comparative. For example, happily, comfortable, and jealous would become more happily, more comfortable, and more jealous in the comparative.

Superlative adjectives and adverbs are used to compare more than two people or two things.

Fatoumata is the loudest cheerleader on the squad.

Kenyatta was voted the most confident student by her graduating class.

Sentence 1 shows that Fatoumata is not just louder than one other person, but she is the loudest of all the cheerleaders on the squad.

Sentence 2 shows that Kenyatta was voted the most confident student of all the students in her class.

Form superlatives in one of the following two ways:

If the adjective or adverb is a one-syllable word, add -est to form the superlative. For example, big, fast, and short would become biggest, fastest, and shortest in the superlative form.

If the adjective or adverb is a word of two or more syllables, place the word most in front of it. For example, happily, comfortable, and jealous would become most happily, most comfortable, and most jealous in the superlative form.

Tip

Remember the following exception: If the word has two syllables and ends in -y, change the -y to an -i and add -est. For example, happy would change to happiest in the superlative form; healthy would change to healthiest.

Exercise 2

Irregular Words: Good, Well, Bad, and Badly

Good, well, bad, and badly are often used incorrectly. Study the following chart to learn the correct usage of these words and their comparative and superlative forms.

Comparative Superlative
Adjective good better best
Adverb well better best
Adjective bad worse worst
Adverb badly worse worst

Good versus Well

Good is always an adjective—that is, a word that describes a noun or a pronoun. The second sentence is correct because well is an adverb that tells how something is done.

Incorrect: Cecilia felt that she had never done so good on a test.

Correct: Cecilia felt that she had never done so well on a test.

Well is always an adverb that describes a verb, adverb, or adjective. The second sentence is correct because good is an adjective that describes the noun score.

Incorrect: Cecilia’s team received a well score.

Correct: Cecilia’s team received a good score.

Bad versus Badly

Bad is always an adjective. The second sentence is correct because badly is an adverb that tells how the speaker did on the test.

Incorrect: I did bad on my accounting test because I didn’t study.

Correct: I did badly on my accounting test because I didn’t study.

Badly is always an adverb. The second sentence is correct because bad is an adjective that describes the noun thunderstorm.

Incorrect: The coming thunderstorm looked badly.

Correct: The coming thunderstorm looked bad.

Better and Worse

The following are examples of the use of better and worse:

Tyra likes sprinting better than long distance running.

The traffic is worse in Chicago than in Atlanta.

Tip: Remember better and worse compare two persons or things. Best and worst compare three or more persons or things.

Best and Worst

The following are examples of the use of best and worst:

Tyra sprints best of all the other competitors.

Peter finished worst of all the runners in the race.

Exercise 3

Exercise 4

Tip

The irregular words good, well, bad, and badly are often misused along with their comparative and superlative forms better, best, worse, and worst. You may not hear the difference between worse and worst, and therefore type it incorrectly. In a formal or business-like tone, use each of these words to write eight separate sentences. Assume these sentences will be seen and judged by your current or future employer.

Key Takeaways

  • Adjectives describe a noun or a pronoun.
  • Adverbs describe a verb, adjective, or another adverb.
  • Most adverbs are formed by adding -ly to an adjective.
  • Comparative adjectives and adverbs compare two persons or things.
  • Superlative adjectives or adverbs compare more than two persons or things.
  • The adjectives good and bad and the adverbs well and badly are unique in their comparative and superlative forms and require special attention.

Prefixes

A prefix is a word part added to the beginning of a word to create a new meaning. The main rule to remember when adding a prefix to a word is not to add letters or leave out any letters. See the following table “Common Prefixes” for examples of this rule.

Common Prefixes

Prefix

Meaning

Example

dis

not, opposite of

dis + satisfied = dissatisfied

mis

wrongly

mis + spell = misspell

un

not

un + acceptable = unacceptable

re

again

re + election = reelection

inter

between

inter + related = interrelated

pre

before

pre + pay = prepay

non

not

non + sense = nonsense

super

above

super + script = superscript

sub

under

sub + merge = submerge

anti

against, opposing

anti + bacterial = antibacterial

Exercise 5

Identify the five words with prefixes in the following paragraph, and write their meanings on a separate sheet of paper.

At first, I thought one of my fuzzy, orange socks disappeared in the dryer, but I could not find it in there. Because it was my favorite pair, nothing was going to prevent me from finding that sock. I looked all around my bedroom, under the bed, on top of the bed, and in my closet, but I still could not find it. I did not know that I would discover the answer just as I gave up my search. As I sat down on the couch in the family room, my Dad was reclining on his chair. I laughed when I saw that one of his feet was orange and the other blue! I forgot that he was color-blind. Next time he does laundry I will have to supervise him while he folds the socks so that he does not accidentally take one of mine!

Exercise 6

Suffixes

A suffix is a word part added to the end of a word to create a new meaning. Study the suffix rules in the following boxes.

Rule 1

When adding the suffixes -ness and -ly to a word, the spelling of the word does not change.

Examples:

dark + ness = darkness

scholar + ly = scholarly

Exceptions to Rule 1: When the word ends in y, change the y to i before adding -ness and -ly.

Examples:

ready + ly = readily

happy + ness = happiness

Rule 2

When the suffix begins with a vowel, drop the silent e in the root word.

Examples:

care + ing = caring

use + able = usable

Exceptions to Rule 2: When the word ends in ce or ge, keep the silent e if the suffix begins with a or o.

Examples:

replace + able = replaceable

courage + ous = courageous

Rule 3

When the suffix begins with a consonant, keep the silent e in the original word.

Examples:

care + ful = careful

care + less = careless

Exceptions to Rule 3:

Examples:

true + ly = truly

argue + ment = argument

Rule 4

When the word ends in a consonant plus y, change the y to i before any suffix not beginning with i.

Examples:

sunny + er = sunnier

hurry + ing = hurrying

Rule 5

When the suffix begins with a vowel, double the final consonant only if (1) the word has only one syllable or is accented on the last syllable and (2) the word ends in a single vowel followed by a single consonant.

Examples:

tan + ing = tanning (one syllable word)

regret + ing = regretting (The accent is on the last syllable; the word ends in a single vowel followed by a single consonant.)

cancel + ed = canceled (The accent is not on the last syllable.)

prefer + ed = preferred

Exercise 7

On your own sheet of paper, write correctly the forms of the words with their suffixes.

refer + ed

refer + ence

mope + ing

approve + al

green + ness

benefit + ed

resubmit + ing

use + age

greedy + ly

excite + ment

Key Takeaways

  • A prefix is a word part added to the beginning of a word that changes the word’s meaning.
  • A suffix is a word part added to the end of a word that changes the word’s meaning.
  • Learning the meanings of prefixes and suffixes will help expand your vocabulary, which will help improve your writing.

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College ESL Writers: Mohawk College Edition by Barbara Hall and Elizabeth Wallace is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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